Austin Butler sings in new biopic ‘Elvis’

Tackling the role of Elvis Presley is a tall order. There are millions of adoring and protective fans who will watch and criticize every move and every lip lift. Many actors have tried to play the king in productions on the big and small screen: Don Johnson in 1981’s “Elvis and the Beauty Queen”, Michael Shannon in 2016’s “Elvis and Nixon” and David Keith in the effort to 1988, “Heartbreak Hotel,” Just to name a few. Probably the most acclaimed performance (and deservedly so) was that of Kurt Russell in “Elvis,” the 1979 TV movie directed by John Carpenter.

Now, a 30-year-old actor named Austin Butler — probably best known for his role as Charles Manson follower Tex Watson in “Once Upon a Time….in Hollywood” — has given us his take on the famous performer in the new theater movie “Elvis”, and he just knocked the ball out of the park. The film is elevated even higher by Oscar-winning co-star Tom Hanks and acclaimed writer/director Baz Luhrmann’s stunning visual style (“Romeo + Juliet, “The Great Gatsby”).

The film begins with a big visual splash – Presley’s famous “TCB” (“Taking Care of Business”) logo, which blends into the Warner Bros. shield. We then meet the singer’s aging former manager, Colonel Tom Parker (a very heavily made-up Tom Hanks), now near death and eager to set the record straight if he was a manipulative charlatan or someone who had the best interests of the singer. in the heart. Incidentally, Hanks spent between two and a half to five hours a day in the makeup chair to get the heavyweight promoter look.

Warner Bros.

Austin Butler, who beat out several others for the role, and Tom Hanks share a moment in a scene from “Elvis,” director Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of Elvis Presley.

The script by Luhrmann, frequent collaborator Craig Pearce, Sam Bromell (“The Get Down”) and Jeremy Doner (“The Killing”) moves at a breakneck pace, with plenty of Colonel narration and a slew of characters throughout the film. attempts to address the most important events in the singer’s life – all in two hours and 39 minutes.

We meet her parents, Vernon and Gladys, played by Richard Foxburgh and Helen Thompson. The two Australian actors replaced Rufus Sewell and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who were forced to drop out after production was halted for six months at the onset of COVID-19.

We learn about Elvis’ childhood, his first musical influences thanks to local black artists, and we attend his first concert where the nervous singer unleashes his physical presence on an unsuspecting public who are quickly seduced. (The reactions of some of the women who attend the concerts are invaluable.)

The Colonel is a character in his own right in this film, and Hanks fully demonstrates Parker’s immense skills as a promoter, especially in a scene at a carnival where he does a kind of dance with his potential new client – d first in a disorienting room. -of-mirrors attraction, then on a Ferris wheel. Luhrmann’s vast visual skills are on full display through this film, whether at a carnival, or at a career-changing reunion at the Hollywood sign, or onstage rehearsal for Presley’s residency. in Las Vegas. Everything is so visual and something to behold.

Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker and Austin Butler as Elvis Presley on the Ferris wheel in scene from 'Elvis'

Warner Bros.

Tom Hanks and Austin Butler have a conversation on a Ferris wheel as Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic “Elvis.”

Recreation footage of these famous shows at the International Hotel, as well as the acclaimed 1968 comeback TV special, are filmed so precisely that I sometimes wondered if I was watching newsreel footage from these actual shows. and not new scenes for a movie.

Butler (who beat Miles Teller and Harry Styles for the role of Elvis) worked with a movement coach to replicate Presley’s mannerisms, kicks, karate chops and other moves on stage. It captures the king’s presence so perfectly it’s almost frightening. He can be sexy and confident, but also vulnerable. Butler also does some of the actual singing of early Elvis songs, with Presley’s vocals sometimes mixed in. The later era songs are all actual Presley recordings.

WATCH: Actors talk about Elvis Presley

As mentioned, the story unfolds very quickly and feels almost frantic at times. It’s a challenge to portray such an incredible life and career in just over two and a half hours, so a lot of events are just skimmed over or glossed over. Priscilla Presley (well played by Olivia DeJonge of “The Visit”) features in the story, but like many other parts of Elvis’ life, it could have been her own movie.

This film delivers on many levels: it’s a wonderful portrayal of Elvis Presley in different eras, as well as a look at the life and career challenges he went through. It also provides a closer look at the manager who manipulated the entertainer for over two decades. Plus, “Elvis” features some absolutely amazing concert scenes that make audiences feel like they’re in the front row of some legendary performances.

Rated PG-13
4½ out of 5 stars
Now in theaters

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